They’re sleek, fast, maneuver extremely well and now have a realistic robotic version flying around Caltech. We’re talking about bats, and the robotic version as recently shown off in the Science Robotics journal.

Funded by the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative, the Caltech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory researches have been studying the physiology of bats. Attempting to learn from them and how they manage to maneuver so well, the robot version simplifies things, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

As it turns out, a bat can have over forty moving joints in the wings. The Bat Bot brings that number down to nine working joints with fairly realistic results in the air. A real bat can precisely manipulate the size, shape and angle of its wings, Bat Bot focuses on emulating the critical wing movements, at least, just enough to get airborn and make a few cool moves.

What is really the thing to note here, however, is the outer membrane of the bot. What looks like a nightmarish skin is an extremely thing layer of silicon-based super stretchy material. This membrane is able to form to the various shapes of the wing, stretches to avoid damage, but is still a little creepy in its see-through form.

During a flap of the wing, the membrane does stretch a fair amount. This is capitalized as the material snaps back into place when the wing finishes its downward motion, pushing out that air for a little boost.

Admitting that there is a long way to go before this design is truly worthy of sustained flight, more specifically, sustained flight as effective as a real bat, initial tests have been promising.

What role would you assign to a robotic bat?